Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin has been on a recent hot streak. Five of his catches against the Baltimore Ravens illustrate why he’s at the top of his game and how defenses are being burned.
Russell Wilson is thriving running an offense that now features a myriad of short passing routes. Wilson takes the snap from the shotgun and quickly releases.
Earlier in the season, Wilson was reluctant to throw with anticipation to receivers on shorter routes, but he now seems to better understand the value of a pre-snap read and getting the ball out quickly. When Seattle has employed the deepest pass drops for Wilson, the protection has still been suspect, but protection in the quick and short-intermediate passing game has been stellar.
The one who benefitted most from Wilson’s resurgence has been Doug Baldwin. I’m still appalled at his Super Bowl touchdown celebration, but over the past four weeks, Baldwin leads all NFL receivers in receiving yards and touchdowns. Here’s a look at five of his six receptions Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens.
• Arrow route for 14 yards: On third-and-seven, Baldwin aligned as the inside of three receivers (trips) right and ran a quick arrow route to the right flat. Baltimore defended with “Cover One Lurk” — man-to-man with one free safety deep middle and one safety shallow in the middle, “lurking” for shallow crossing routes or Wilson scrambles. Baltimore gambled by using “press” bump-and-run coverage against each Seahawks receiver. The Ravens’ cover defenders were all at the line of scrimmage, where they could easily be picked by adjacent Seahawks receivers. Tyler Lockett, from his alignment as the middle receiver, ran a quick slant-stop route designed to pick Jimmy Smith, the corner pressed on Baldwin. When Baltimore failed to “switch” the routes similar to basketball players switching defensively along the three-point line, the play design was likely to result in a first down. Baldwin showed ideal patience as he first “chattered’ his feet to freeze Smith, then quickly dropped his hips while faking hard inside. This devastating move turned Smith 180 degrees from Baldwin’s direction, and the separation made Lockett’s pick superfluous. Wilson released off a quick three-step drop, and the play gained 13 yards after completion.
• Over route for 14-yard TD: With Seattle in a three-receiver formation left, Baltimore again played man-to-man “Cover One Lurk.” But after successful pick plays by Seattle, the Ravens had cover defenders at different levels so Baldwin’s defender, Shareece Wright, played 7 yards off and inside, while the defender over Lockett played press. Normally, cornerbacks play that far inside only when they have no free safety help, but recently Baldwin has been targeted on numerous in-breaking “Over” routes — also termed “Angle Cross” routes — including two touchdowns last week against Minnesota. From this inside alignment, Wright still had outside coverage responsibility on Baldwin, who again aligned as the inside of three receivers and thus had ample space to the outside. Baldwin ran directly at Wright, then head-faked outside before leveling parallel to the line of scrimmage with a step on Wright. Lockett’s seam route held the free safety, ensuring single coverage on Baldwin. All that remained was Wilson’s bull’s-eye from a clean pocket.
• Arrow route for 8 yards: This third-and-five play was similar to the first play described, with a couple differences. Instead of a trips formation, it was empty backfield and three-by-two receivers. This represented an essential aspect of a good passing scheme: Use identical route concepts from different formations so the defense doesn’t sit on routes. Earlier, from trips formation, the widest receiver ran a decoy/takeoff route and wasn’t essential to the play. Here Jermaine Kearse, aligned outside Baldwin, ran the slant-stop to pick for Baldwin on the two-receiver side. Baldwin used the same wicked move on his press defender, Kyle Arrington, who took his turn being abused by Baldwin.
• In route for 22-yard TD: With pass protection stable, the Seahawks used an empty-backfield formation they have seldom shown — “Bunch Quad Left” (four receivers aligned close to one another to Wilson’s left). Working against Baltimore’s “Cover One Lurk” again, Seattle’s formation created wide separation. As the defense would identify it pre-snap, Baldwin was No. 2, meaning he was the second receiver outside-in from the sideline. Lockett was No. 3. At the snap, Lockett ran behind and outside of Baldwin, so Lockett became what defenses term the new No. 2 and Baldwin the new No. 3. Even three-receiver bunch formations can be difficult to sort through for defenders, and it’s harder with four. The Ravens ultimately had two defenders cover Lockett and no one cover Baldwin. Credit Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell for the walk-in touchdown.
• Post route for 16-yard TD: NFL defenses probably have at least one safety deep on more than 99 percent of plays. “Cover Zero,” with no safeties deep, is termed “Casino Blitz” by many coaches because, as the name implies, all chips are in. Either the defense gets to the quarterback or there’s real trouble for the secondary. It’s simply too great a burden to ask a cornerback to defend deep passes up the sideline on go routes and also be aligned in a position to defend a deep post route to the middle of the field. On his third touchdown, Baldwin feasted on “Cover Zero” by faking an outside release on a go/fade route, which included a quick look back to the quarterback to further sell the go before accelerating to the post. In the face of such a filthy route, and with no safety help, cornerback Lardarius Webb was corkscrewed to the ground. Webb’s only hope was that the six-man blitz would get to Wilson, but Webb’s cohorts provided one of the more tepid, uninspired “Cover Zero” blitzes I’ve seen in a while.
The Seahawks lately are having that effect on teams.